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Postgame Hat Trick: Wild 5, Panthers 1

Cullen, Staal score two goals apiece as Minnesota begins 2018 with a victory

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /'s Dan Myers gives three takeaways from the Wild's 5-1 win against the Florida Panthers at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Tuesday night:

1. Matt Cullen doubled his season goal total less than 22 minutes into the game.

The fourth line was tremendous on Tuesday, and Cullen was the main beneficiary of that. His goal 14:21 into the first period got Minnesota on the board. His second, 1:56 into the second period, provided the Wild with some breathing room. The goals were the 698th and 699th points of his NHL career.

"I think we did a good job of getting in on pucks and hanging on to them. Trying to force them to defend and spend time in their end and wear them down," Cullen said. "We got a lot of pucks at the net and traffic with two big bodies. It makes a lot more room for me to work and they're both really good at getting in on pucks. For us to be successful that will have be part of our game every night." 

Goal No. 1 came after some sustained pressure in the offensive zone by Cullen and linemates Marcus Foligno and Daniel Winnik. A shot from the right point by Jared Spurgeon hit Panthers goaltender James Reimer square, with the rebound popping back into the slot, where a diving Cullen punched it home with a backhand.

Video: FLA@MIN: Cullen nets rebound while falling to the ice

The fourth line was buzzing again early in period two when Cullen's deflection -- which came after a redirection by Foligno -- of a shot from the point by Gustav Olofsson.

Video: FLA@MIN: Cullen nets redirect for second goal of game

For Foligno, the assist was his first point since Nov. 27, snapping a 13-game drought. Winnik also finished with an assist as Cullen potted two goals in the same game for the first time since April 7, 2016.

"I thought [Cullen] was really good tonight and I thought that line, the first two periods, was really good," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "I'm very happy for them because I'm sure they've had some nights where they went home and they didn't think they were very good. But they were very good tonight."

2. Is it time to get the #EforASG hashtag trending? 

Eric Staal was magnificent once again as the Wild offense was unrestrained during a bonkers second period. 

Minnesota scored three times in the second period and rolled up a 19-2 (!) shots advantage in the frame as the puck virtually never left the Wild's offensive zone. The 19 shots were the most by Minnesota in any single period this season.

"That was crazy," said goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who had a heck of a view from his perch in the blue paint. "We weren't doing anything crazy. We weren't making high-risk plays. A lot of the stuff was just starting out of great defensive coverage in our end. We were in the right spots. They were trying to make plays, would turn it over and then go back the other way and then just go to work in their end. 

"It's obviously not going to work that well every night, but certainly like we said we're starting to show what we've shown in the past."

Staal scored two of the three goals, doubling the Wild lead in the span of 2:39 late in the period, scoring once against Harri Sateri, who entered the game briefly when Reimer sustained an injury, and then on Reimer after he returned from said ailment.

Video: FLA@MIN: Staal hovers around net, puts home rebound

The goals were the 16th and 17th of the season for Staal, who leads Jason Zucker by two for tops on the club. His 35 points are also the most on the team. 

Video: FLA@MIN: Staal buries Ennis' feed for his second goal

"It would've been nice if [Cullen] got the hatty and I followed it up. His line was really good," Staal said. "They set the tone for us. They had a good couple shifts before they even scored and brought that energy and played in the offensive zone. It was big. It was nice to see him rewarded with two. We are going to need a lot more of that out of his line." 

Staal now has 10 goals in his past 18 games dating back to Nov. 25 and had a golden chance for his first hat trick since January of 2013. With the Florida net empty, the Wild exited the defensive zone with the puck on Charlie Coyle's stick. Staal beelined for the front of the net, but with the puck rolling on his stick, Coyle fired into the empty net himself, snapping a 12-game goal drought of his own.

Video: FLA@MIN: Coyle seals win with empty-net goal

"Charlie needed that one," Staal said. "I've been on that road as well where you want one and it's been a few games and sometimes when you get that empty net it's a relief and it's big for him and I think in the long run it's going to help for everyone." 

3. The game marked the return of Wild forward Zach Parise, who entered the lineup for the first time since undergoing back surgery in October.

It's been a long road back for Minnesota's alternate captain, who had to re-teach himself how to skate once he returned to the ice a few days after Thanksgiving. Parise didn't start, but received a hearty ovation from the home fans when they showed him on the super-sized scoreboard screen in the first period.

"I felt really good from the start. There's still some plays that you'd like to have back off entries but that'll come," Parise said. "Kind of re-learning different spots on the ice where you get pressured. But that'll come. Conditioning-wise, everything else actually felt really good."

Parise didn't figure into the scoring, but had several shifts where he looked like the player fans in Minnesota have grown to appreciate through the years. 

His final line: 20 shifts, 13:35 of ice time, three shots on goal and one takeaway. Most importantly, Parise came away unscathed as questions about his health hopefully fade into the background. 

Video: Bruce Boudreau postgame vs. Panthers

"It's great. I'm sure he's excited. A face we all miss in the room having around, and he's a big part of this team," Dubnyk said. "We showed tonight it was a big boost for us, and he's only going to get better as we go on."

Perhaps more importantly, the Wild showed what time of team it could be moving forward. With Nino Niederreiter's return imminent -- even as soon as Thursday against Buffalo -- Boudreau said Tuesday's game was as comfortable as he's felt this season rolling all four lines.

"Getting him back is such a big lift for us," Cullen said. "Obviously the way he competes and the way he competes on the ice himself, also the trickle down effect throughout our lineup. It was evident tonight. I thought all the lines were going."

Loose pucks

• Minnesota improved to 9-0-2 all time against the Panthers at Xcel Energy Center. Florida is one of two teams (Vegas) to have never earned a regulation win here.

• Spurgeon finished with three assists and was a plus-3.

• Ennis had two assists and was a plus-2.

• Jason Zucker had one assist and was credited with five shots on goal.

• Dubnyk stopped 25 of 26 shots.

Video: FLA@MIN: Dubnyk dives forward for excellent save

• Reimer made 23 saves. Sateri re-entered the game at the beginning of the third period and finished with 13 saves in his NHL debut.

• Jonathan Huberdeau scored Florida's only goal 3:40 into the third period.

• Vincent Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov each had one assist.

• Attendance: 19,029

He said it

"I think that's what we [are] when we're going good. These guys are all vying now for spots. [Cullen] picks it up, Ennis picks it up, a lot of guys played well. That's what you want to see, you want to see that inner competition all the time." -- Wild coach Bruce Boudreau on the team's improved depth as injured players return

Video: Locker room postgame reaction vs. Panthers

They said it

"The better team won. We didn't deserve it. We had a couple early shifts that we OK and after that we shot ourselves in the foot. Everything we talked about backfired tonight. There was no execution and worse than that there wasn't a heck of a lot of compete for 40 minutes. By the time we turned it on a little bit and changed things in the third it was just too late." -- Panthers coach Bob Boughner

Three stars

* Matt Cullen

** Eric Staal

*** Jared Spurgeon

Video: Cullen, Staal, lead Wild to 5-1 home victory

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